I admit it, I’ve been namby-pambying around for the last few weeks. Regular readers (I like to imagine there are some) will have noticed I’ve featured a few wines in this slot that merely flirt with the orange wine category. So to end the first year of these orange segments, here’s an all-out, serious contender made with 12 months of maceration.
Franz & Christine Strohmeier have a quiet intensity and focus which transmits itself quite effectively through their wines.Their 10ha of vineyards are situated in Western Styria, Austria. You have only to look at the primordial logo, and the bottles with their paper hats and strings to realise this is quite an individual estate. The Strohmeiers are part of the Schmecke das Leben “collective” of five wineries, namely Muster, Tauss, Werlitsch and Andreas Tscheppe.
The Strohmeiers originally made a name as a sekt (sparkling wine) producer, but both philosophy and wine have changed considerably over the years. Franz explained how the chemical pesticides they formerly used had made him quite ill for a period, hence a gradual conversion first to organic, now using some biodynamic principles as well.
Strohmeier has taken the minimal intervention ethic even further, in two ways. First, since 2010, no SO2 is added to any of the wines. Second, Franz is now experimenting with not pruning some vineyards at all. We talked about this at some length and he reminded me that so far he has only tried the approach with one poorly performing plot. The results have been good, and the lacklustre vines recovered well.
Inspiration to use extended skin contact came from producers such as Radikon, Giorgio Clai and Sepp Muster. The range still seems to be evolving, so no more “Orange no.1 ” or “Orange no.2”. Now we have “Sonne No.4”, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc which spends four weeks on its skins, and “Wein der Stille”, the wine under discussion here (Wine of silence, to translate loosely).
Wein Der Stille 2013 is produced from a newly acquired vineyard in the small town of Stainz. The blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc with a little Gelber Muskateller (Yellow Muscat), Chardonnay and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is fermented and matured in used 500 and 600l oak barrels. Skins, stems and must stay together for an entire year, before the wine is racked and bottled. No added yeast or So2, no filtration, fining, nothing.
The aromas are wonderful – jasmine flowers, Assam tea, spiced apple. As you’d expect, this wine is big on texture but the tannins are very fine, nutty and elegant. There are glimpses of ripe, autumnal fruits (pears, quinces, apples) and herbs, and a racy acidity that binds everything together. If the idea of so much skin contact strikes fear into your heart, it is unfounded. There’s nothing rough edged, rustic or unbalanced about this supremely integrated, harmonious wine.
We tasted the 2013 from cask in June 2015, before it had been bottled, and it demands a further hearing in a year or two. The back label rightly reminds you to take time to enjoy this wine. I interpret that partly to mean bottle age – the 2013 has enormous potential to become a real “meditation wine” as Italians might say. 5-10 years of age is probably optimal. In that sense, although I’ve no doubt it could accompany all kinds of delicious dishes, there’s so much content here that one could happily enjoy the bottle unaccompanied.
I would however stop short of enjoying it in silence. In that sense, “wine of stillness” or even “wine of peace” might be a better translation. Now, if I did festive blog posts, I’m sure there must be a Christmas reference in there…